Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Other Defector

Lee Oswald was not the only man to defect to the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. There were others such as Robert E. Webster. A former navy man, Webster was assigned to set up a trade display for the Rand Corporation in Moscow in October of 1959. For unknown reasons he decided to defect while there, just two weeks before Oswald did. Oddly, when Webster went to the US Embassy in Moscow to defect, Henry Rand, head of the corporation and a top executive, George Bookbinder, accompanied him. Both Rand and Bookbinder served together in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the forerunner of the CIA. The Rand Corporation did contractual work for the CIA. Like Oswald, Webster went to defect on a Saturday and failed. He was told to return the following Monday when the Embassy was open. Webster had another thing in common with Oswald--he would become disenchanted with life in the Soviet system and return to the Untied States in May of 1962.

It gets stranger. Robert Webster is on the record stating that he never knew or met Oswald while in Russia. Yet Oswald, when preparing to return to the U.S., asked embassy officials about Webster. How did Oswald know about him? Meanwhile, Webster claimed to have met Oswald’s wife Marina while there. She on the other hand, denied ever knowing him.

One thing that was very unlike Oswald, however, was Webster’s return to America. He was thoroughly debriefed by the CIA and Air Force and later spent two weeks with a Senate Internal Security Subcommittee behind closed doors. Contrast that with Oswald going virtually ignored (that we know of) upon his return, being only questioned by the FBI. And this, from a man that offered classified radar secrets to the Soviets.

Another strange item is why the two top men at Rand would accompany Webster to the Embassy. This is the height of the cold war and their employee wants to go commie. And the top people in the company are just going to walk him down there? That’s one issue, but the really odd thing is Webster intended to share a Rand Corporation product, their plastic spray gun, with the Russians. What CEO would approve of this? It is now known that the CIA had a false defector program to get assets into the Soviet Union during this time. So, this may have been an intelligence operation of some sort utilizing Rand as the set-up man, with his company, one of the few allowed to do business in the Soviet Union (also contracted with the CIA), to help put an operation like this in play.

Of course, the KGB had a similar arrangement with their agents marrying outsiders so they could later return with them to their respective countries, as Marina did with Lee. I am not saying Marina was a KGB spy; she certainly wasn’t gong to be doing much of that being a stay at home mom with two small children, but it’s an interesting coincidence.

So what do we have here? Strangeness surrounds Oswald and permeates the whole investigation of the Kennedy tragedy. There are thousand stories like this one. Apparently, when designing and acting out operations, the intelligence services cannot cover for everything they do. Just enough to make it work. There are always variables. Things stick out. Things go wrong. Agents lurk in the shadows and that’s all they leave behind. Just enough to let you know they passed by.

One last bit of trivia. Though I haven’t found the pictures yet it has been reported that Robert E. Webster bore a striking resemblance to Lee H. Oswald when viewed head-on. Supposedly, they are not exact but very close. Decide for yourself.